CBKA Practical Apiary Meeting on Inspections & Apiary Management
This afternoon I went to the CBKA Practical Apiary Meeting at the association's apiary up at Wandlebury. Andrew Durham was leading a meeting about inspections and apiary management. I wanted to see how an experienced person conducts a hive inspection and manages an apiary - this wasn't Andrew's own apiary but he talked us through what he does and how his colonies have been doing this year. The meeting was split between talking in the Bee Shed and gathering round a hive outside while Andrew inspected it.
Andrew likened inspecting a beehive to dealing with an unexploded bomb. One false move and it can blow up in your face! Thus Andrew takes great pains to avoid rolling or crushing bees which, besides being undesirable for its own sake, could trigger an alarm signal in the hive. The hive we looked at - one of John Rayner's - housed a docile colony who co-operated very nicely with the exercise. The queen was marked and she was seen early on...but then another marked bee was seen, and then another! It turned out that the apiary had previously held a session for beginners in which they had practised marking queens by marking drones.
It was useful just to see how someone else does things - the way they hold frames, pick up boxes and put things down, how they place a queen excluder on a brood box. Andrew uses tea towels quite a lot, to cover any open parts of the hives that are not currently being inspected, so that the bees are less disturbed by the light and won't fly up off the covered frames. It's something I've been meaning to try - I must add some tea towels to my (ever growing!) bee kit.
I might also extend the kit to include peppermint oil and lemongrass extract. Andrew explained how he uses the peppermint for uniting colonies or introducing new queens - it's an easier alternative to smoke, and works similarly by masking the bees' native smell so that they are less likely to reject incoming "alien" bees that would otherwise be detected as smelling different. And lemongrass, apparently, is an attractant to swarms. Andrew puts it in his "bait hive" - an empty hive designed to appeal to a swarm looking for a new home - so that if he fails to control swarming in one of his hives then at least there is a chance of the swarm taking up residence in the bait hive rather than the neighbour's chimney. I suppose this also means that it would be a very bad idea to put lemongrass in your chimney, so if you were ever tempted to do that then I recommend you dismiss the idea immediately.
Interestingly, Andrew buys in all his queens. He doesn't breed any himself. Buying in queens must be a bit of a faff and an expense, but the upside is that the purchased queens have (or should have) a reliably good temperament and other desirable traits from selective breeding. In contrast, queens raised by bees at home are a genetic gamble, dependent on whether the "queen mother" mated with nice drones or with drones from the wrong side of the tracks.
Coincidentally, by the way, when attending this meeting I discovered on a table in the Bee Shed some back issues of BeeCraft magazine. Among them was the January 2015 issue. And inside it, the piece I wrote for them about the BIBBA/SICAMM conference back in Autumn 2014. I've updated my post with a photo of the finished article.